Review of A Cruel Fate by Lindsay Davis – 5 Stars

A Cruel FateA Cruel Fate by Lindsey Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: Martin Watt’s is a bookseller who has never stepped foot out of line, is captured for being on the wrong side of a war he didn’t care much about. This short novel follows his story as a prisoner of war and the treatment and brutality received. The novel also contains the story of Jan Afton whose brother has also been captured during the turmoil. Jane being regarded as a spinster to her family is sent to find out what has happened to her brother and retrieve him.

I really enjoyed this short story and was pleased to find a historical fiction novel within the quick reads series. the “quick reads” collection which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This seems to be what has jarred other readers (the use of simpler language) but I didn’t find it detracted from the novel at all. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Men of humble birth will sometimes become officers, but Nat Afton will never be a captain. He will not aspire to it. He wants to lie low. It is a great surprise to Jane that he has even been taken prisoner.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this novel was that multiple viewpoints were captured in its short number of pages and all the characters were really engaging (you liked who you were supposed to like and hated who you were supposed to hate). Not an easy task I imagine with so few words. I particularly liked the ending.

This novel is set during the second English Civil War when Royalist and Roundhead butted heads, pikes, cavalry and cannon across the Country for supremacy. Mostly describing the situation inside Oxford Castle Prison. I think the author did a really good job of describing both this time period and the setting. The descriptions of the treatment of the Royalist prisoners (I suppose any prisoners from the time), has actually intrigued me and I would be interested in reading more about the period.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Review of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – 4 Stars.

The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant, #5)The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is pretty much as the back cover describes. Inspector Alan Grant finds himself cooped up after suffering from a broken leg. When his friend Marta brings him a jumble of historical mysteries the portrait of Richard III immediately intrigues him. Soon the inspector is pulling every historical source he can find to determine the truth, did Richard the third truly murder the princes in the tower.

When I started this book it took me a really long time to adapt to the slow and methodical writing approach. It is deliberately done this way so that the reader gets caught up in Alan Grant’s viewpoint of ‘don’t believe everything written in the history books’, take things one step at a time. The author also has a good way of drip feeding bits of British History without it becoming a cumbersome read. However, as this novel was first published in the 1950s the writing is a little old-fashioned and takes a bit of time to get used to, for example;

 

“If anyone, looking into a crystal ball at that party, had told Cecily Nevill that in for years not only the York line but the whole Plantagenet dynasty would have gone forever, she would have held it either madness or treason.”

I did enjoy the story of this book but found the character Inspector Alan Grant to be a bit bland. However, I do confess when reading this I had no idea it was a series and had assumed it was a standalone (it was pleasantly readable as a standalone), so I do wonder if perhaps I had read the others in the series first I would have enjoyed this character more.

I really loved the concept of the book; trying to solve an old murder mystery from centuries before with just the materials you can lay your hands on at the time. I must say considering the novel is nearly seventy years old it has aged brilliantly and is still very readable. It is a quirky novel, well researched and an intriguing addition to the Richard III and the murder of the princes’ debate.

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Review of The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne – 5 stars

The Sin EaterThe Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Nell West series by Sarah Rayne (Property of a Lady being the first) and whilst they still have the historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, they aren’t quite as dark and unnerving as her standalone novels (such as House of the Lost). I did make the mistake of not reading the stories in the correct order and whilst this doesn’t detract too much from the story as it’s quite strong on its own, I do wish I had read them in the correct order as I think the character development of Nell and Michael is such a good minor storyline and would have been better to have read it in the correct order.

In the modern storyline we go with antiques dealer Nell to a Large London house. We meet troubled Benedict Doyle who has inherited the house from his great-grandfather. Benedict finds the house the house disturbing and soon finds himself having troubled dreams featuring the previous occupant, but the events he is dreaming about seem so real. When these dream events are revealed to Michael Flint (Oxford Don who featured in the first novel), his interest is piqued and he starts to research the historical facts behind Benedict’s dreams.

The second storyline for me, made this novel and is why I’ve given it five stars. The story follows Declan and Colm whom move from their Irish home to London city and get caught up in a situation and a world that they never expected to find themselves in.

Other reviewers have complained that Rayne’s writing style has changed with the Nell West series and whilst I agree she has reduced a lot of the darker elements of her writing, I think if anything she has increased the mystery elements of these novels. The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, this one surrounds a chess piece yet it is so well written you cannot help but get swept up in the storyline.

I also think Rayne’s characters are evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Benedict; his mental condition and how he is suffering as he tries to split what is real from what is imaginary. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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Review of Hiss & Hers by M.C. Beaton – 3 Stars

Hiss and Hers (Agatha Raisin, #23)Hiss and Hers by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Agatha is a little too keen on gardener George (as are many of the woman in the village) but when his body is discovered in a compost heap with a bag over his head that has recently contained a poisonous snake, it is a little too late for the romance to kindle. Instead Agatha and her team through their efforts together to help track the killer.
I am always unsure whether to leave a neutral/negative review of a book or not. My reading interests are quite far and wide and often enjoyment of a book is down to personal taste but I thought I should leave this review for others as I feel as a fan of MC Beaton a little let down. I adore her Hamish series and although never quite as fond of the Agatha series they are normally still an enjoyable light read.

So…onto the negative(s)
The murderer was pretty obvious (to me) from the beginning and there was very little in the way of the usual plot twists and misdirects. It left me feeling a little flat instead of that usual intrigue to get to the end.
The actual writing/language within this book was often quite plain and boring, not as dynamic as it has been in the Hamish series or even earlier Agatha R books. I didn’t really feel as though I got swept up in the characters and their misdemeanours as I normally would.

However… there are still positives.
Some sections of the book are very humorous and very enjoyable.
The use of Agatha’s colleagues (Toni, Simon, Phil and Patrick) and their concern for her (and the trouble she gets herself into) is a lovely dynamic and it’s nice that these characters have featured a little bit more, especially the use of Toni’s sleuthing skills.

For those that haven’t read any MC Beaton, think a jollier version of Agatha Christie’s work. The Hamish series is far better, so I’d recommend you start there. But overall this book was enjoyable, just not as good as the others.

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Review of Servants by Lucy Lethbridge

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern TimesServants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is made up from a wide range of sources showing the history of servants and those that have spent life in service. The book includes not only those in service and their memories but also their employers. The book also includes various size households showing a vast array of living throughout the classes and ages.
One of the things I liked most about this book was the author’s writing style, incredibly interesting, informative but not patronising. All the source data provided was very clear but did not read like a PhD textbook!
This thing about this book is, it is really thought-provoking. You start to think that these roles in so many cases are still taken for granted: – cooking, cleaning, childcare, gardening, caretaking, nursing etc. Yet they are so critical. Obviously, there are some things in place now to help these roles (couldn’t live without my Dyson!). The book also does give you an appreciation for society and how it has evolved in the past 100 years or so.
Overall this is a very insightful and informative book and I would recommend to anyone that has an interest in social classes, Victorian history or even just a big Downton Abbey fan .

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Review of Miss peregrines home for peculiar children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miss peregrines home for peculiar children is based on a young boy called Jacob and the stories he was told by his grandfather. When his grandfather passes away in unusual circumstances Jacob begins to question the events his grandfather he was told about. When a psychologist suggests that Jacob goes to the remote Scottish Island that his grandfather based the stories on Jacob knows he has to go and find out the truth.
This book will really appeal to fans of Harry Potter and X-men stories. Something that is a little different but told from the viewpoint of someone that seems to be normal, finding out the truth about himself. Yet it is darker than either of those tales, almost in the genre of horror.
Ransom Riggs has quite a quirky writing style and I really enjoyed it. The use of the images throughout the book was so sinister and intriguing. It was a really refreshing approach to story-telling, which I really enjoyed.
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Review of Malevolent by E.H. Reinhard – 4.5 Stars

Malevolent (Lieutenant Kane, #1)Malevolent by E.H. Reinhard

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A woman arrives at an airport, the next time she is seen is when she is found dead in an alley in a dumpster wearing only green lingerie. Worse she has holes drilled into her head and a powerful drug in her system. Soon the press label the killer psycho surgeon and it’s easy to see why. Can Lieutenant Carl Kane and his partner hunt down this killer before more woman show up?

This book his pretty intense, certainly gory as other readers have pointed out in reviews, so if you’re a bit squeamish there will be a few chapters to skip over. I did get this book for free and although a fan of detective crime fiction was unsure what to expect from this new author in a field that is already pretty full with the likes of Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, amongst countless others. That said I actually found myself really enjoying this book. It was very well written.
Not going to lie, the book is dark. That just makes you want the good guys to catch the bad guys, even more. Kane himself is quite likeable, with a good spark between him and his partner. Kane lives alone with his cat, he even finds time for a love interest.

The only real negative I would say is there are a few places that there is a lot of descriptions going on that’s purpose seems to be just to fill out the pages a little, especially in comparison to the mostly sharp action-filled pace of writing Reinhard seems to adopt for the majority of the book. Then again, this could be to give the book a bit of a relief from the fast pace.
All in all, a fabulous start to a great new series. Book works perfectly as a standalone novel but there is plenty of room for the character to grow and I expect this will be a long-running series. Not for the faint of heart, perfect for those that enjoy the grittier side of crime drama. Action heavy, fun, fast-paced novel.
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